Governor Phil Bryant is calling for a tax cut for thousands Mississippi families. Bryant addressed a joint session of the Mississippi legislature last night for his state of the state address.
Governor Phil Bryant sounded an optimistic note with his state of the state address, taking credit for an improving economy and laying out a long list of proposals he wants state lawmakers to consider.
Bryant began by highlighting the state's declining unemployment rate, saying it is Republican efforts to bring business to the state that are at the core of the growing economy.
"Three years ago the unemployment rate in Mississippi was 9.8 percent. Today it is around 7.3. According to our state economist Mississippi added 8,800 more jobs than in 2013," Bryant said.
However, at 7.3 Mississippi has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.
Bryant proposed an income tax cut for families making up to 52-thousand dollars a year, but also says he is open to other options.
"The legislative process will generate additional ideas for tax relief for Mississippi families. The good news is I am open to any number of tax cuts that puts money in the pockets of working Mississippians," Bryant said.
The Governor also announced a plan to earmark roughly 50-million dollars for job training at Mississippi community colleges.
In a nod toward a controversial proposal in the state legislature, Bryant backed educational vouchers for students with special needs.
"This year, we must do all in our power to help children with special needs. The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act will empower parents with educational choice to get their children the service they need," Bryant said.
Bryant promised reform at the Department of Corrections, which is in the midst of a corruption scandal and called for a 150-million dollar expansion at the state's children's hospital.
Democrats responded with a highly polished seven-minute political commercial, rather than the typical speech response.
Here, Representative Robert Johnson of Natchez takes a shot at the Governor's rosy economic picture.
"The Republican political spin about job creation is just that, spin. Despite what you hear Governor Bryant say, Mississippi has 41-thousand fewer jobs than we had in 2007. This despite the fact the fact that the population has grown by over 230-thousand," Johnson said.
Republicans, like Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, responded positively to the speech as they look to defend their majorities in both chambers.
"Pleased to hear Governor Bryant continue to talk about the need for tax relief for Mississippians. And the fact that we need to give a pay raise to taxpayers. I thought it was very well done," Reeves said.
Senate Appropriations Chair Buck Clarke, a Republican from Hollandale, says he expects the legislature to act on many of the proposals that Bryant laid out.
"thought it was great. As the Governor said he is a guy that sees the glass half full. Laid out a lot of things we are looking at in this legislative agenda," Clark said.
Democrats called for more education spending, tougher anti-corruption laws, and increased transportation spending.
Senator Hillman Fraiser of Jackson joked that Bryant is taking credit for economic improvements that have occurred under Democratic President Barack Obama.
"Obama talked about some of those things last night. So he mirrored some of those things Obama talked about. So it is good to seem them working hand in hand together," Fraiser said.
Some Democrats also scratched their heads at the Governor's call to end reductions in federal support for uncompensated care at hospitals in Mississippi.
Representative John Hines of Greenville says hospitals are struggling under those cuts because the Governor opposes Medicaid expansion, which the federal health care reform law intended be a new source of revenue for hospitals.
"I think any time that you stop people from having the opportunity to have health care, that is a concern of mine. Especially with me representing the Delta. We lead the country in most all negative outcomes around health disparities and all those issues. So I have great concerns about if people are going to have the opportunity to access health care," Hines said.
The dueling visions and political pitches are highly relevant because all 8 statewide elected officials and 174 members of the House and Senate are up for re-election this November.